Following on from Computer Audio for Beginners - Part 1, Vince Luke of AMR goes a little deeper this time, delving into the best ways to transfer CD files to computer hard drives, how to optimize your computer for audiophile playback, and more.
Assuming one has chosen the desired front-end hardware the next step is the actual transfer of the complete CD collection from “disk to drive”.
This section is focused upon:
a) How - to transfer/access CD music from the physical disk to a Hard Disk Drive.
b) What - are the type of audio files and their respective advantages/disadvantages.
c) Where - organizing the overall music library for ease of access, which is the most oft-overlooked aspect due to the sheer number of likely audio files.
There are two approaches to creating a library of music files on the computer:
1. Ripping CDs or DVD-As:
“Ripping” is the term to describe the transfer of a duplicate of the music file from physical CD (or DVD-A) to a suitable music file. High-quality music ripping programs abound; J. River Media Center, dB CD Ripper, Exact Audio Copy, (all on Windows) and XLD (OS X) to name but a few. iTunes also works, but is more limited as it is aimed at the mass market.
- Transfer current CD/DVD-A collection to Hard Disk Drive.
- Ripping is a time-consuming exercise but there are services that will carry out this mundane task.
- Currently, no way to rip SACD because it is in Direct Stream Digital (DSD) format which is incompatible with the mainstream Pulse Code Modulation (PCM).
- Need to decide how to rip the file, as an all-in-one single file or a cue sheet or rip as per individual tracks and place in the folder (the latter is recommended for ease of access, reference and storage).
2. Downloading music files:
iTunes is by far the most well-known music store through which to purchase and download music. High-Definition music files are between 3-5 times larger than Standard-Definition 16-Bit FLAC music files. Downloads are the future source of Standard-Definition (CD) and High-Definition music (though some HD music websites offer the option to send out a memory stick with the HD music on it).
- Convenience of “click and download” is unmatched.
- Personal/financial data is required to purchase, but “https:” payment has been shown to be secure (there is also payment by telephone)
- In event of loss of data (if not backed up, need to re-download)
The table above summarizes the different types of music files, their sound quality and comments about their different characteristics. Overall, for high-end computer audio purposes, we recommend FLAC--it saves on disk space yet is at the highest quality on a par with the original CD recording (assuming the software and hardware have been fully-optimized).
It is worth noting that between the two highest quality types of music files (that is, Uncompressed versus Lossless Compression), there is, in theory, no difference between these two approaches. But in practice, there is the issue of software jitter in the chain to consider that can/may impact either format type. The software jitter is case-specific as it is dependent upon the hardware and software configuration.
Keen-eyed observers will note that under the Windows Media Audio format, there are Lossless Compression and Lossy Compression with the identical “.wma” file extension. To determine whether the file is lossless or lossy, the exact bit rate must be identified, found under the properties of the music file itself. A bit rate of 768 kilobits is lossless, anything lower is considered lossy. To ascertain the bit rate of a file, simply move the mouse over the precise music file and the embedded data is displayed.
Further, specific to “.wav” files only, they do not support tagging and as such, are less user-friendly.
With a little planning, the consummate ease and long-term satisfaction from a comprehensive and properly-organized music library is beyond words.
With the sources and types of files identified in the previous section, the following is an overview of the work required to best organize the likely thousands of albums in a typical music collection. This is simply one approach preferred by us. However, once you understand what is required, arrange as you so wish.